Aconcagua: normal or Polish?

Finding the next challenge, the next mountain you want to climb is only a very small part of expedition planning. Once the “goal” has been agreed upon, the real work begins. With this kind of mountains you can’t really freestyle it and intuitively follow random paths that seem to be going up. First, you have to decide on the route. I’m always tempted not to take on the normal route but I also don’t want to bite more than I can chew.

The route matters enormously. It is like choosing a friend to go on an adventure. There’s the friend you know well,  who is quite predictable, and there’s that more mysterious, erratic friend that is picking your curiosity, and that you know will make the trip more exciting.

On Aconcagua, trips with local companies are offered along two main routes: the normal route, and the polish route, with small variations of both. Let’s take a look at their pros and cons.

 

The_trek_in_to_aconcagua

Normal route:

Also called the North West route, is typically done is 18-20 days. The normal route is composed of three to four camps in total: base camp (plaza de Mulas), plaza Canada, nido de Condores and Berlin/Colera.

The pros:

  • Medical services: staying at base camp has numerous advantages. And one that is significant is the presence of a doctor. At this kind of altitude, this is certainly something not to take lightly!
  • Rescue patrol: due to the popularity of the route, a rescue team is always available.
  • Not technical: the normal route is the most popular one due to the fact that the distance between the camps is manageable, and the routes does not require any technical abilities.
  • Porters, mules and helicopter: if your bag is too heavy you can easily find an array of services to help you along the way!

The cons:

  • Packed: it’s a popular route, therefore expect crowds and traffic jams along the way!
  • Wind: the high camps are known to be very exposed to wind storms
  • Approach: long and not particularly scenic (although opinions differ on that!)
  • Going up and down the same route

Take a tour along the normal route HERE

Aconcagua_13

Fake polish route:

The fake polish route is actually composed of three different itineraries: the direct polish glacier route, the polish traverse route (also called fake polish or 360), and the guanacos route. So far, the tour operators I have contacted did not propose the direct polish glacier route, which is quite technical and requires special guides. No matter the itinerary, the polish route rejoins the normal route for the last kilometre to the summit.

Pros:

  • Scenic: the polish route is known for its impressive landscape, especially on the way to the first camp.
  • Less crowded: because it is a little more technical, the polish route is rarely as congested as the normal route.
  • A loop: the ascent crosses the polish glacier, and the descent follows the normal route. This route is best to see two different sides of the mountain!
  • Easier start: the approach start at a lower altitude than the normal route, and the ascent is more gradual.

Cons:

  • More technical: this route is not recommended to those who have never walked in crampons or used ice axes. The fake polish route avoids the steepest portions, but some sections are steep (40-50 degres).
  • Less medical services: as the route is not as popular as the normal route, rescue services and medical assistance isn’t quite on the same level.
  • Difficulty: the distance between the camps is greater and steeper.
  • Rivers: it takes 5 river crossing to reach the first camp, which can be a great challenge after heavy rainfalls.

Take a tour along the polish traverse route HERE

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